Cali Tribal Casinos Blamed for Local COVID-19 Spread
Seven casinos operated by tribes in San Diego County, California are facing tough criticism for reportedly spreading COVID-19 on-site.
Across the United States, casinos have been shutting down and opening back up left and right for months. Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the United States. By December, the nation has seen over 18 million positive cases and over 320,000 deaths. One way in which the virus can be defeated or at least slow the spread is to social distance. Local governments have shut down non-essential businesses on a continual basis or limited them to try and stop the virus from continuing to grow at a rapid pace. Casinos fall into this category. However, for the tribal operated casinos, they do not have to shut down due to government mandate.
Tribal casinos like those in San Diego County, California are considered sovereign and can operate based on their own regulations. When businesses were forced to shut down in the region, tribal operators did not. As a result, reports show that the casinos were a cause of COVID-19 spread. The casinos do not agree.
Report Connecting Cases to the Operators
San Diego State University saw its non-profit media organization KPBS report on the COVID-19 case counts at the tribal casinos since the month of June. In total, at least 638 cases were connected back to the venues.
The most cases were seen at Viejas Casino & Resort, with 166. Not far behind was Sycuan Casino & Resort 155. The Barona Resort & Casino saw 102 cases while Jamul Casino had 91. The Harrah’s Resort Southern California, Valley View and Pala Casino also had positive case counts, but in the lower numbers.
In speaking with KPBS, San Diego State University infectious disease specialist Dr. Christian Ramers, commented that it is very concerning that transmission is ongoing in these settings. She called it a chain reaction and said that as long as ongoing transmission is taking place, there would be no way to get a handle on the epidemic.
In March, when the virus began, the tribal casinos in the county did close voluntarily. However, they were opening back up again in May, which was against the governor’s wishes.
Tribal Leaders Reject the Allegations
Tribal leaders of the casinos in the county are not happy with the report and reject the claims. They say the casinos are safe environments. In a statement, the Veijas Casino says that the analysis of KPBS is questionable as they used general county data related to COVID-19 instead of data related specifically to the venue.
Viejas Casino reportedly spoke to KPBS before the article was published and said that only a few cases had direct ties to the casino. The cases were connected to a single exposure from months ago when a group of employees used a non-public office space. The tribe says that the news agency withheld that information from the article.
The local Health and Human Services Agency in the county says that a COVID-19 case is linked to a location if the person who is infected has been in the area within two weeks of testing positive for the virus. People may be exposed in several settings, such as the household, a restaurant, casino, etc.
According to the health group, potential exposure in a setting does not mean the setting is the source. The Health Department has stated that casinos have contributed to less than 1% of all community exposure settings. Bars, restaurants and retail facilities are responsible for a higher percentage each, of over 9%.
Casinos can take precautions while operating at this time. From mask wearing to social distancing, there are many options. The CDC has pointed out that casinos are of a higher risk when table games are offered as they have high touch components such as dice and cards.